Sunday, February 21, 2010
The Reach of Project Natal
“So have you seen the Natal?” friend Number One asked.
“Nope.” I said, “Although it sounds familiar.”
“WHAT!” said friend Number Two. “You have GOT to see the trailers.”
“Trailers?” I asked.
“YOU haven’t seen the trailers?” said friend Number One. “You’ve got to see the trailers.”
“Yes,” said friend Number Two, “You’ve got to see the trailers.”
So I saw the trailers. You should see the trailers too. I will give the links in a few moments but prepare yourselves, Gentle Readers, although what you are about to see is for a “video game system” what you are truly about to see is the future. Really. I don’t shill for Microsoft / X-box (although if you are out there Microsoft / X-box, I wouldn’t mind shilling for you… forgive me. I digress). I do not have any stake other than sharing with you what I believe is the dawn of a new era in computer electronic human interface.
The first trailer is cute it shows some of the possibilities of this interface with gaming and with social networking. It can be found here: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/projectnatal/.
The second trailer hints at what could become something so much… more. It can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYPh6qo03gA.
With facial, body and voice recognition Project Natal changes the playing field. A few years ago when the Nintendo Wii came out Sony and Microsoft had been spending their time developing systems with graphics reproduction processors and digital sound – which are important things IF you are a gamer. Nintendo, on the other hand, invested in revolution. With their wireless motion controllers and nun chucks they made it possible for even non-gamers to play video games. It was a simple idea that shook the whole industry and made Nintendo the lead dog of the video game console dog team. Your grandmother may not want to be on your “Call of Duty” strike team but she absolutely loves to bowl with you on the Wii. And just why is that? It is because it is accessible. It is familiar. Nintendo did not have to have the best processing because they had the best interface. That was a historic step. Initially the other companies called the Wii a fad (just like 30 years ago people called video games ‘a fad’). But year after year with the Wii at the top of the heap the other companies decided to develop their own Wii type interfaces. Sony practically copied the Wii Remote (which has not been released yet) and Microsoft developed the Natal. The difference between the two is that the Sony controller is a retread and the Natal is the forward motion of not only gaming but of computer interfacing itself. It surpasses the Wii and, for lack of a better phrase, is the next step in whatever the future may hold.
Enter the X-box Natal. With the Natal now your X-box knows who you are. It recognizes you. It knows the sound of your voice. It tailors itself to fit your needs. This opens up gaming, storytelling and participatory theater to a completely new level. Don’t believe me? Here is some guy named Spielberg to give his two cents concerning the Natal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_3X8TY32f0.
Now let’s consider the future. Can you imagine what the first social interactions or Facebook / Natal interfaces would be? Hundreds of millions of people out there all with their own avatars ready, willing and able to communicate in ways not even dreamed of with a mouse and a keyboard. How about the Windows Natal Browser? I kid you not; this is the shape of things to come. One does not have to be The Amazing Kreskin to see what the future may be here – what it will be here. Can you imagine what a Natal Enabled Classroom would look like? How about Natal Enabled medical records or business presentations? A Natal PowerPoint is not beyond the realm of possibility – it is the same company.
With all of the benefits that such an interface would deliver what concerns me are some of the potential detriments. There will be people who are going to get so enraptured with all the virtual worlds inside the Natal that the real one would fade in comparison. There will be those who like there lives more inside the Natal than on the outside. There are friends inside there. They understand. They cater to one’s needs, wants and desires. Sure they are relating to programs within an electronic construct but if the shoe fits… For these souls Natal Anonymous chapters would open up. I can already hear the empty talking heads on the morning news programs – “Technology, how much is too much?” The answer to that lies only in the boundaries of human imagination. The simple fact of the matter is once the genie is out of the bottle the world has moved on. There is no going back – nor should there be. However; for every step forward, throughout history mind you, there are those who are willing and able to take three steps back. There were people who said that horseless carriages would never last; that man would never fly. There were those who said that man would never walk on the moon. There were some who said average everyday people would never need anything like a personal computer. There were those who said video games were just a fad. You get the idea. This technology is here and it will be here to stay. Users will have to adapt and the Natal makes adaptation such an easy feat. Those that don't will be left behind.
“If this is the real deal, what about addiction?”
In the grand scale bell curve of progress you will find on either side of that curve people who will utilize a new technology (or anything for that matter) too much or too little. If you like cars or motorcycles you are a “Gear Head”. If you like computers and what makes them run you are a “Tech Head”. If you like either of these pastimes too much and it monopolizes your time where you are constantly thinking about (insert addiction here) then you may have a problem (of course you may also have a clear career path too). For the vast majority on this future bell curve it will be a tool; a new way to communicate. And just as with anything there will be those who are better at new technologies than others and there will be those who will eternally have their digital clocks blinking 12:00 AM.
As for having an addiction? “My name is Evil Chicken and I have (or will have) a Natal problem.” There. I’ve said it. I’ve taken the first step to recovery.
We have looked at the good and the bad of the Natal; now let’s look at the ugly. Facial and Voice recognition, tens of millions of users worldwide – each with their own personal identification and profiles that they update themselves? All cataloged in one place! Right now, I kid you not, there are think tanks and organizations (governmental and otherwise) filled with people wringing their hands and stroking their pencil thin mustaches who are overcome with joy with frenzied looks in their eyes at the prospect of having all of that information at their fingertips. The information that they have is yours. Big Brother now is no longer just watching you. No. Now he is playing volleyball with you in your living room. He is able to sit in on each and every video chat that you have with your cousin in Seattle or your wife back home in Jersey or your doctor’s office. He is able to see what sites you go to and what you buy online. Whatever the camera’s eye sees or the electronic ear hears someone, somewhere can see it too. Money may make the world go round but information? Information is power. Power is the drug that fuels the engines of despotism, tyranny and repression.
“Oh come on, Evil Chicken. You are being paranoid. That could never happen.”
No? Not to sound too much like a conspiracy theorist please consider the case of the school in Lower Merion Township in Pennsylvania and how they were activating the web cams on student’s computers to “track missing laptops”. Read ‘em and weep: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/02/school-district-halts-webcam-surveillance/.
This is only a small abuse of power. I am not even going to discuss the HUGE abuses of power that the big fish could perpetrate in this equation. Do a search on Google and the NSA who have been recently working together. I am going to hazard a guess and say that Google will be one or the options for search engines on future models of the Natal. “Don’t be evil” was nice while it lasted – however long that was. Now imagine that it is your turn to be reviewed or audited as for your habits of what you do online or, in the near future, on the Natal Network. We voluntarily give out so much of our information and our personal freedoms so willingly all in the names of entertainment and security. Perhaps it will be something as "innocuous" as selling your demographic info to advertising agencies? Perhaps the monitoring will be chalked up to "national security" or "finding terrorists". Whatever the case YOU will be watched. You will be told it is for your own good. Only history will hold the answer to if the clandestine monitoring / spying was worth the price of identity.
Please forgive me… "Who watches the watchmen" is only a part of this equation. This is still about the Natal, which has the power of becoming an amazing new tool for the ages. As with any tool it is only as good as the craftsman who is using it. The same can be said for the craftsman’s intentions. Whether you believe Microsoft can deliver on the Natal or not it will be in stores for Christmas 2010.
I’ll be camping out for one. I believe that for the future the Good will be worth the Bad and that the Ugly have always been with us – they just have better tools now.
I’ll see you in line.